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Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography review – portrait of an easily distracted genius

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Walter Isaacson’s illuminating study explains why the original Renaissance man left so many paintings unfinished…

In 1482, Leonardo da Vinci left his homeland of Tuscany and moved to Milan. He had written to Ludovico Sforza, the city’s ruler, listing his impressive qualifications, hoping to be offered employment. He could design bridges, make new types of cannons, dig “secret winding passages”, create waterways and plan cities. To these accomplishments the 30-year-old Leonardo added: “Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible.”

Thus the creator of The Mona Lisa only mentioned his artistic abilities as an afterthought. “What he mainly pitched was a pretence of military engineering expertise,” states Isaacson in this lavish, loving biography of the great Renaissance polymath. “These boasts were aspirational. He had never been to a battle nor actually built any of the weapons he described.”

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